In Focus: Ben Eine

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There’s not a particularly large group of artists whose letter style is globally recognised. Commissioned and admired by the rich and famous, rejuvenator of the the concrete jungle; Nev caught up with Ben Eine following the unveiling of his recent collaboration of epic proportions with Zippo in London.

First off – 17,500 square metres! That’s huge! For writers that plan a piece with approximately 5-10 cans, how many did this take? I’m guessing much of it was completed with emulsion?

We used recycled paint to create the artwork, 2,850 litres in total! I’m pretty proud of this project with Zippo because I’ve never had the opportunity to create art on such a huge scale before. Each letter was around 20 meters big and the floor rollers were 18 inches wide, so everything was really supersized. We had fifteen 200-litre barrels of paint delivered to the site and it had to be mixed in bathtubs. Normally when I work, it’s just me turning up to the location in a car with a few cans.

Is this the largest piece you’ve completed?

Yes, this is the biggest piece I’ve ever done. It’s potentially one of the largest paintings in the world! The size and scale of the art made it a huge challenge, but it’s such an exciting project to be a part of. Because the piece was on the floor, I couldn’t stand back and see how it was developing as we were drawing the outlines.

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Every letter is equidistant, exactly the same heights and looks like it has been completed with pinpoint accuracy. How do you lay out something this big?

To be totally honest, sketching up at the start was a bit of a nightmare. Normally I can sketch something up, get off the scissor lift, step back and have a look at it, then work out where it’s wrong. That just wasn’t the case this time! At the end of each day, we would fly a drone up in the air and capture footage of how the overall piece was looking. If something wasn’t right we re-sketched and touched things up the next day. We used all kinds of things to measure up, mainly string, then I sprayed the outline before the painting itself took place.

What’s next? How are you going to top this?

I’ve kicked off the year with a pretty big achievement with Zippo. Honestly I never thought about having my art on a lighter, but I like that I can carry it around in my pocket! I can’t reveal too much about what’s coming next, all I’ll say is keep an eye on my Instagram over the next few months.

Q. Are the lighters for sale? Where can we get one?

Yeah, you can order them now through the Zippo website.

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What was the idea behind the piece ‘Every Time I look Up I Feel Happy, when I Look Down I’m Sad’? And what inspired you?

That painting was in Gothenburg and we had a huge area to paint; it was about 11 stories high! It was in quite a rundown neighborhood and I really wanted to create something positive. The first thing I did was try to work out how many letters I could fit on the wall, and then started to brainstorm ideas. I thought ‘Every time I look up I feel happy’ was a really positive message to be putting out there.

Tell us about TPG, how did this happen? Do you still keep in touch with the crew?

TPG was a crew that started in Helsinki, and the original meaning of TPG was the ‘The Transit Poltergeists’, and I’m still in touch with a lot of people in that crew!

Would you ever consider doing a Wordplay outline? – I had to ask!

Possibly, it’s something we can discuss!

Many artists have a go to colour, some even have a Molotow colour named after them. Do you have a colour you always return to?

What I’ve started doing recently is asking the people who commission me to paint the wall to choose the colours they want to work with. I definitely do have go-to colours but I like the challenge that comes with being asked to use colours that I maybe wouldn’t have usually chosen myself and then trying to make them work.

It’s refreshing to see a graffiti writer turn street artist but still manage to keep it very much about the letter style. Tell us about the good old days of British Graffiti – what made you pick up a can?

It was a slow process going from graffiti to street art. If I can be totally honest, I started doing graffiti when hip-hop culture got transported to England and I really wanted to be a part of that culture. I had a vague interest in art so graffiti was basically my way in! I enjoy street art because it’s not exclusive; anyone can walk by my paintings on the wall. Because they’re out in the public eye, people are always snapping them and putting pictures on Instagram, which is great to see because it’s a way of preserving art, similar to what Zippo have done for me with the limited edition lighter.

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Matt Neville